The Lighter Side of Lessons

Are you looking for answers to life’s big questions? How about advice on happiness, finding fulfilling work, loveelder humor
and marriage, or living a life without regrets? You’ve come to the right place!
At the Legacy Project, we’ve asked more than 1200 older Americans to share their advice for younger people about how to live happier lives. (And the book on the topic will make a perfect graduation gift this spring!).

Meet some of the amazing elders in person on our YouTube channel! You can also get more elder wisdom by following us on Facebook .

Many of the elders looked at their long lives with a sense of humor. Here are a few of my favorites from the interviews with people ages 70 to 108:

Save your money, take care of yourself, play golf.

Stay out of trouble – and steer clear of other people’s wives!

Choose to be happy. I even wear my Clinique perfume called “Happy.”

Don’t wear a miniskirt when you’re sixty-eight.

God don’t like people that mess around where they ain’t supposed to be. I know he put it out there for you to do if you want to do it, but he don’t tell you to do it!

Well, I don’t think my life would have worked without God in my life because my husband is Mexican-Italian and I’m English-Irish, along that line, and if we hadn’t had God in our life, we just wouldn’t have made it.

I think stick with your beliefs but listen to other people’s sides. A couple of times I think I even voted for Democrats.

Learn new things, don’t sit back and stagnate. I’ve got to admit that we just got a new computer and it still terrifies me. I couldn’t even program anything and I’m a damn mechanic! And here comes an eight year old boy who can work it so well!

I’ve learned that it’s much easier to be positive than negative, it’s easier to smile than to frown, and when in doubt, eat chocolate!

Come join the conversation with the wisest Americans!

The Secrets of Communicating with Adult Children

communicating with adult childrenMany of the elders in the Legacy Project had one piece of advice about getting along with one’s adult children: Don’t interfere in their lives, and wait for them to come to you for advice. But what when they do ask your opinion, what are some good ways to communicate?

Tom, 82, has warm and supportive relationships with his three middle-aged sons. He recognizes that sometimes one is called upon to give advice to adult children; indeed, they ask for it. A problem, of course, is that parents are naturally invested in their children, and it is difficult for them to step outside of their own needs to objectively evaluate the choices their child must make.

Tom’s advice: Take the “I” out of the conversation:

Yeah, the big advice is always be open minded. Forget the business of ‘I’ centered and put the focus on ‘you’ centered. The son that you’re talking to and who has issues that he wants to discuss and forget the ‘I’, or at least put the I in the background so that at least he understands that he’s getting the benefit of your wisdom. You, who can govern how much ‘I’ to project, can inject information or guidance when it’s appropriate, not to dominate the conversation but to augment what the son wants to say. I think it’s a delicate balance of diplomacy among family members. I’ve not always done well.

Grace, 75, found that her enjoyment of her children increased as they grew older and became adults; it was the “pay-off” for more difficult earlier years.

I think by the time my kids were a little bit older and they were able to accept their parents for who they were, as I was with my mother, then it was great. I have enjoyed my children as adults so much, so, so much, and it’s something no one ever said to me. They always would say when the kids were young, “Oh, these are the wonderful years, these are the best years.” They were lovely years, but there is something just as lovely or more lovely when they are adults and you could talk to them as another human being. To know your children as adults is great.

She shares her thoughts with her kids, but accepts that her advice may be turned aside.

Well, there again, I think – don’t be too critical. In fact, don’t be critical at all. Accept them, accept what they’re doing. But I for example just wrote my daughter giving her some financial advice, and said, “I’m giving this to you with love not with criticism,” because she just does such stupid things financially. So – and she will read it, and maybe she’ll do it and maybe she won’t, but I’m perfectly willing to accept it that way.

Do You Need More Stuff? Some Christmas Elder Wisdom

First, let me say that I love the holiday season. But, as Christmas approaches and we are inundated with advertisements and messages to spend wildly, it’s worth taking a break for elder wisdom. In the Legacy Project, over and over the elders told us that people and experiences matter more than things. In hundreds of interviews, they unanimously caution that time spent getting a lot more stuff than you really need is time wasted. The holidays seem like the right time to listen to our elders and think twice about how much we buy.

Steve, 78, tells how he learned to put material rewards in perspective, focusing instead on the accumulation of love for family and friends. As I’m planning my Christmas shopping, I try to keep his lesson in my head!

We were among the very lucky ones. Both my wife and I were born into middle class merchant families, with caring parents in small communities where you knew and were known by your neighbors. My wife lost her father when she was only 13. She, her mother and sister moved to another, beautiful small community where life was comfortable though not luxurous and values for the young were set by the example of parent and community. My childhood with loving parents and an older brother was uncomplicated and also filled with good values set by example. Owning and accumulating was not an important part of life for either of our families.

This upbringing undoubtedly established most of our values and attitudes for the adult years. Honesty, integrity and compassion for ones fellow human beings remained the anchor for all decisions. As we matured, reared and educated four children and attempted to pass along those values to them, we learned that listening is far more important than lectures, and though it sometimes seemed we were not heard, the example of our lives spoke loudly to our youngsters.

Now, at 71 and 78, as we progress through our senior years, living comfortably — not luxurously — we are increasingly aware that accumulating STUFF is of little importance. The accumulation of love for each other, of our children and of life-long friends and extending that love to those less fortunate than we have been is the centerpiece of our lives, of humanity and civilization.

Learn to Be Grateful

It’s World Gratitude Day today – and it’s a day we like to celebrate here at the Legacy Project!
gratefulness

An attitude of gratitude” is an expression that popped up frequently among the elders. Research shows that promoting a feeling of gratitude can lead to improved psychological well being. here are a few lessons from the elders that can help motivate you in a grateful direction:

Be grateful for every day you have. I’m serious about that. Just be grateful of every day you have and enjoy. (Purnima, 81)

It’s an everyday thing, because I like to be thankful, I like to be thankful for what I have and my good health. And the blessings that the Lord gives us from day to day we should be thankful for. And another thing is to try to live your life daily, one day at a time. Look ahead but still make the most of each day. (Tanya, 79)

Take time to replenish yourself – sleep, quiet time, music, reading, enjoying nature. It’s difficult to keep going when you are running on empty. Be grateful in your everyday life for the small stuff. (Rudy, 84)

And my favorite, from Becky, 89:

In spite of growing up and attending college in the Depression years, the “good life” for me began in earliest childhood when I was raised in a loving and encouraging family and enriched by many inspiring role models. Then, fortunately, our marriage was a happy and rewarding one that enabled us to meet ups and downs together.  For both of us, gratitude and giving thanks to our parents and others along the way was simply a way of life.  I am not sure the importance of a simple “Thank you” or caring gesture is stressed enough today.

Advice From Wanda, 84: “It All Boils Down To Choices”

Wanda worries that young people won’t be interested in her life lessons. I think she’s wrong about that, choicesbecause her hard-won lessons for living are ones we all can use.

I write poetry for children and for the old. The media generation escapes me. I really would like to know what is going on, but it all seems as alien as the planet Mars. What could I tell them out of my experience that would have any meaning for them? In my 84-year-old case, I feel that I have lost their attention. If I could re-capture it for fifteen minutes, I would say this:

It all boils down to choices. Make a bad one in a few seconds, and live with the consequences for the rest of your life. When you are young, lots of the choices have to do with sex and relationships. Use your head, and go carefully.

If you have a chance, get as much education as you can, because it gives you options you would not have otherwise. Find out what your strong suite is, and follow up on it. Don’t be afraid to seek advice . If words are your thing, and you think you might make a writer, don’t wait until you are 70 years old as I did.

Those who make a plan for their lives have an advantage over those who just float merrily along. This, in fact, is what I did, and I had a wonderful ride – but if someone had asked me “What do you want to do with your life? You’re only going to get one.” I might have focused more, and perhaps made a difference . But no one ever did. Too late for regrets!

One must make a living, and it is not easy these days. But don’t insist on being a millionaire. Focus on making enough money to bring up your children, educate them, save and invest anything extra for your old age.

If you have children, spend time with them, doing “stuff” like going on beach picnics, going to the zoo , reading poetry and stories at bed time, making cookies, at Christmas, singing with them, using art materials( Kids clean up well.) These are things they will remember in later life.

I think I’ll stop here. If I get preachy, no young person is going to listen.

“All That Is Good is Within Us: Gustav’s Advice from Age 70

Gustav, 70, offers an uplifting lesson, telling us that “all that is good is within us” and urging us to laugh and, yes, to all that's goodhave fun!

Beloved friends,

The most important lesson I have learned is to live in the present moment. This is our gift, right here, right now. This is why it is called “the present.”

To see the outer world as a reflection of the inner world. If we would like to clean up the former, focus on the latter. Have fun. Laughter is great, belly laughter is greater.

All that is good is within us. If we want more peace, love, joy, health, happiness, etc. in the world, focus where we can have the greatest impact: within our own skin. Outside our skin we have very little control. As we clean up our mind, body and emotions, our essential goodness radiates clearly through us. This easeful, peaceful, useful joyful radiance has a greater impact than we can ever imagine.

The secret to life is to have fun. Listen to our own heart. Discover and respect our own gifts. Live a joyful life sharing our gifts through our thoughts, words and actions. Live like a child.

Laugh when we fall down, make mistakes. Get up, try again, laugh, fall down, try again. Success is ours. Everything else gives it flavor. Get up, fall down, get up. To inspire is to breather in or to motivate. To expire is to breathe out or to die. For as long as practical, follow each expiration with an inspiration.

Gwen’s List for Living – Love, Enjoy, Trust

We are still so into our elders’ lists of their lessons for living, we want to share a few more. It’s amazing how many people sat down and summed up their advice for younger generations.

Today we hear from Gwen, 70, who provides an insightful – and sometimes unusual – list of life lessons. She tells us to embrace life with exuberance list for living.2and joy, giving to others while not forgetting to take care of ourselves.

When I look back over my life, the most important things I have learned are:

I truly do create my own reality.

Be lavish in loving those close to me, Don’t hold back.

I am my ancestors, they are me, we are one.

My children are my crown, my grandchildren the jewels therein, my great grandchildren the pure gold setting.

There are times to keep my mouth shut no matter what!

Friends are precious – and they can be animals.

Beauty surrounds me as much as I allow and let it in, even in death.

Its so good to laugh, especially with those you love.

Respect others and be kind – it will take you far.

I have a soul and it can sing, when in nature with trees, flowers, and plants, it has a voice.

Gardens are heaven on earth.

I love and take care of myself; only then can I assist another, really love another, care for another.

Have fun, play, tell a joke, laugh, be silly, outrageous, every day, it keeps the doctor away.

To love myself, enjoy myself, trust myself, be good to myself. Then give of myself. Fill up first, never try to give out of an empty container, it just doesn’t work.

Words are life or death, choose wisely before opening mouth.

Harmony in a family is its greatest assest.

To remain flexible, in thought word and deed, and be ready to party at the drop of a hat!

To sing loudly and lustily even though I can’t carry a tune –  it clears out a lot of cob webs in my mind.

There are second and third and fourth and on and on chances in life. Just keep on keeping on, it’s journey.

Solitude is warm soup on a cold day, to a hungry spirit.

I am the rock in the family now, and rocks don”t make a lot of noise. They just are.

Sensible Lessons about Money

Sometimes I find myself thinking: Whatever happened to good sense? When it comes to money, the elders offer advice that is, well, sensible. They came from a generation of savers, re-users, and careful consumers. Here’s 91-year old Betty’s advice for financial well-being:

You need a checking account and a savings account. Take each paycheck to the bank and deposit, don’t cash it. Hold out enough for cash purchases, groceries, etc.  Leave enough in the checking account to pay current bills. Whenever possible, put a little in the savings account. This is your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and a start toward your savings.

Be wary of credit cards. Never use one unless you can pay the bill in full at the end of the month. The interest can be devastating to your finances.

Aim toward home ownership. Rent is a constant drain with nothing to show for it.

For major purchases, save first and pay cash. This goes for cars and it can be done.  As soon as I’ve bought a car, I start saving (in the savings account) for the next. Making payments adds much more to the cost. That money can be yours to use.

When you have your finances organized and are keeping out of debt you are ready for the next step. Start your life savings. It is all right to start small but you can’t start too soon. Locate a full service brokerage firm and appointment with a financial adviser, who will listen to your needs and advise accordingly. Medium risk stock will likely serve you best. Later you can use the dividends for extra income. If you keep increasing your stock portfolio, it will provide financial security for retirement. Never buy stock from a small outfit that only deals with a limited type of stock or on advice of an individual.

If You Hate Your Job: Get Out

Miriam has had several careers in her 72 years. She was a single parent for years, then she went to college and has worked as a writer,

trainer, and counselor. Miriam knows first-hand the difficulties of finding meaningful work while being under financial pressure to support a family.

I’ve had a very fulfilling career. It’s ongoing, still. It was the most important thing to find work that fit my principles. My life is about compassion and integrity and love and mostly service. It’s an important choice and a decision that I made. You must make wise career choices when you’re young.

If you fall in a career and you know that it’s not your cup of tea, if you did it because of your parents, or you thought it was what you wanted and you were wrong – get out right away! Because our lives are made up of two important things: work and love. If one of those is off balance, you know, you have a problem.